Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Zen and the Art of Holiday Packing

Even as you read this I’m fresh back from a fortnight in Italy and busy unpacking my bulging case. The kitchen is dotted with piles of laundry, every flat surface littered with stuff to be put back in its right place.

A suitcase compresses all your essentials into one small space, temporarily, then sort of explodes. It disgorges all your worldly possessions in a formless heap which takes ages to disperse. I spend days after a holiday putting my life back to rights, but this is nothing compared to the time my SO spends packing his case.

It always seems to me that once you start your packing, life descends into chaos. Suddenly there are things I can’t use, things that must be ‘put away’ for the holiday. I have favourite clothes that mustn’t be dirtied because there may not be time to wash them before we go. Toiletries need to be planned, lined up and counted. The suitcase with its huge, yawning mouth, ever hungry, lurks on the landing, smacking its lips. It devours all my precious and useful bits and pieces not to be seen again until I arrive safely at wherever.

Given all the above, all my instincts scream that the suitcases should be left in the loft and the packing should be delayed until the last sensible moment. Obviously not the last minute, that’s just poor planning, but a ‘just in time’ policy seems to be called for.

My husband disagrees. He starts weeks before, thinking about his holiday wardrobe, gathering the stuff he wants to take and putting it aside, nice and safe and ready. He’ll ask me what shampoo I want to take, and of course I have no idea. We’re not leaving for a fortnight. Do I have a new toothbrush? I shrug. What about towels, for the beach or pool? More blank looks from me.

There is also, I gather, a correct way to actually place the items in the case. Towels go on the bottom, along with anything heavy. I can’t see the logic. Airport baggage handlers are no respecters of top and bottom, my case is as likely to find itself upside down as not. But this whole thing has become an industry. There are books written on the optimum approach to packing, folding, what to take, how to maximise space and minimize weight. It’s a science, or a dark art, and one which my husband understands and I just plain don’t.

We always fall out in the run-up to a holiday because our approaches are incompatible. He insists on getting everything ready well in advance and complains that I’m leaving all the work to him. He’s right, I am, because as far as I’m concerned that’s next week’s job and we all ought to concentrate on what matters now. Important matters, such as pre-scheduling Oh Get a Grip posts, for example.

He also has a near-obsessive fear of missing the plane. I agree, that would be a disaster, but traffic is what it is and as long as we set off in reasonable time what more can we do? We can set off even earlier, that’s what. The result? We spend literally hours perched on plastic airport chairs waiting for check in to open. By the time those suitcases trundle off on their little conveyor belt on their mysterious journey into the bowels of the airport I’m heartily sick of the sight of them.

My husband is a planner. As well as his meticulous and organized approach to preparation for the break, he likes to have the entire holiday mapped out, a timetable agreed for the various outings and activities. He’ll pre-book tickets (a thrifty habit, I know, but I can’t bring myself to want to think so far ahead), and he always has a healthy pile of Euros stashed weeks ahead. Given the recent nosedive in the conversion rate since Brexit I suppose that’s also a prudent move but I’m not going to say so. It’ll only encourage him to more and greater feats of forward planning.

Italy is gorgeous and I know we’ll have a fabulous time, but a part of me is looking forward to it all being over. By the time you read this, it will be. Travel broadens the mind and we can all do with a bit of that, but holidays are hard work. I think I’m going to need a lie down in a darkened room to get over it all.


  1. Italy is a beautiful place for a holiday. Momma X had a publishing job that took her (us) to Milan and Verona for 4-6 weeks for seven years straight, back in the 90's. What a perk!

    She's the packer in our family. Also the planner. I'm more of the seat-of-the-pantser. It avoids arguments to let our SO assume the lead they're made for.

    But we agree that getting to the airport early is of prime importance. We get a room at one of those "Park n' fly Airport hotels where we go to the hotel the evening before a morning flight, have a nice dinner and get a shuttle to the plane the next morning. Eliminates all the angst about early-mornig drives when traffic can be unpredictable.

  2. I'm a lot like your husband, Ashe. I start thinking about the questions of what should and should not be taken weeks ahead of time. And yes, the question of what should not be worn, since it might be needed... Still, the actual packing tends to be a bit more like writing a story. I always have more items spread out on the bed than I can fit in the case.

    So, did you have a wonderful time?

  3. On the one hand, I wish in vain for then chance to take a trip long enough to need more than one moderate suitcase carelessly packed, which is to say two or three overnights at best. That's all I can do, and only occasionally, with my current responsibilities. But when I think about the packing required for longer expeditions, I'm juts as glad I don't have to face that kind of packing. How on earth did I manage back when I could travel like that?

  4. Italy was wonderful. By some minor miracle, the suitcases arrived at the same airport we did and we were reunited. The second week of our holiday didn't go exactly as planned. Our daughter, aged 19, found herself with a week off work so we agreed to stump up the cost of her air ticket and she flew out to join us. Probably the last 'family holiday' we'll have so memorable for that reason alone.


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